Mr Waight said that Ms Couric’s popular tweets will no doubt add to the growing interest in Belize’s network of ancient Maya ceremonial caves, of which Actun Tunichil Muknal, known locally as ATM, is the most highly recognised.
“ATM is a relative newcomer to Belize’s Maya attractions, but word of mouth has steadily increased interest in it in recent years,” Mr Waight said, “It’s certainly one of the most captivating things I’ve experienced anywhere, and without exception our guests return from excursions to the cave completely amazed. It’s an experience that’s difficult to put into words,” he said.
Ms Couric spent the 2013 New Year’s in Belize where she tweeted about the country’s many attractions, including the famous nurse sharks of the Belize Great Barrier Reef and her exploration of the ATM.
“Last day in Belize!! Went spelunking in the incredible ATM Cave! Wish I could have taken pics-Mayan pots, skeletons from human sacrifices!!” Ms Couric tweeted.
Mr Waight said that Ms Couric’s reaction was not uncommon. “Everybody, and I mean everybody, is blown away by the ATM. It’s impossible not to be affected by the sheer physical beauty, the ancient Maya altars and the number of ancient Maya artefacts such as jade axe heads, pottery and sacrificial instruments scattered around.
“And then, after exploring the various chambers and cathedral- like ceremonial areas, you come across the Crystal Maiden – the complete skeleton of a young woman that has over the years been crystallised so that it sparkles in the flashlight beams. Most people describe it as breathtaking, and I’d have to agree,” Mr Waight said.
The ancient Maya of Belize used Belize’s extensive network of caves, which they believed to be portals to the underworld, for worship and ceremonies, including human sacrifices. The ATM, also called “Xibalba” in Mayan and “The Cave of the Crystal maiden” was discovered by geologists and after being catalogued by archaeologists was open to the public in the late 1990s.
Due to its historical significance and fragility, entry is strictly controlled by the Belize government and it can only be accessed by specially licensed guides.
Mr Waight said that Chaa Creek’s tours to ATM are carefully organised to give visitors a comprehensive experience while preserving the site’s integrity.
“Chaa Creek owner Mick Fleming was one of the earlier visitors to the ATM, and since then he has been active in preserving the site and ensuring that all tours are very carefully conducted to make sure it remains pristine for future generations. We’re very lucky that people are allowed to access it at all, and that’s only because of the efforts of the Belize Institute of Archaeology to manage it in a responsible manner,” Mr Waight said, adding that Chaa Creek conducts special tours to the ATM and includes visits to the cave in some of the resort’s all-inclusive Belize vacation packages.
“Sometime people think I’m exaggerating when I describe the ATM, and then they go and return back even more enthusiastic than I am. So I wasn’t surprised that even someone with extensive experience like Ms Couric had the reaction she did. It’s that kind of place,” he added.